This blog post has been written and contributed by the beautiful, inspirational, brave, courageous, and strong Angela Zena Hadchiti, founder of The Unheard Voice. Angela and her children have risen from a torturous situation, and a living hell; a horror of domestic violence that no one should ever have to go through. But she is a survivor, one of the “lucky” ones.
Thank you Angela for sharing your story.
If you were to see me walking down your local street, or in the supermarket, you would never realize that I am a survivor. A survivor of epic proportions in Australia. The physical bruises have long since healed, yet the mental and emotional scars upon my heart are there. In some ways they will always remain deep inside of me. I am a survivor of 19 years of domestic violence. I am one of the fortunate ones. Too many woman have died from a violent act from the sole person who was supposed to love and protect them.
I am telling my story, not for glory, or for sympathy, but so other women, men and children who may be in an abusive situation can see there is hope, there is a way out, and we are worth so much more than being hit, tortured, mentally and emotionally destroyed by the violence of another.
The thing about domestic violence is, it happens so gradually that you almost don’t detect it. It starts off as minor incidents that seem to “blow over” quite quickly. I thought he just had a short temper or a bad day at work. But now I have been able to reflect on what were the warning signs, and though at times they may have been subtle, they are definitely note worthy. The way he would comment on how I dressed, how I styled my hair, how he wouldn’t allow me to wear high heels, how I cooked and cleaned. Constant criticism, undermining my ability as a wife, mother, woman.
After the first time there were many others but I can’t put them into any sort of sequence, in fact I know I have forgotten quite a few of them. Although I knew I should leave, I didn’t because each time he hit me, a little bit more of my existence left my heart and soul, and my body became a hostage. His rage would always came back. And I would wonder if it was something I had said or done. He always said that I would provoke him. I would make him angry. The spousal rape started, too. I didn’t realize it was rape at the time. Not until long after. Rape is supposed to come from a stranger jumping out of the bushes, right? Not from your husband.
I was not living. I was surviving under a manipulative shadow. A shadow so strong that it drained the very life and existence out of my battered self. From psychological to emotional to physical abuse, myself and my three girls endured it all. I was not allowed to go anywhere, was not allowed to speak to anyone. I was estranged from my family. He implanted a tracking device in my car and also put a listening device on my phone. I had no breathing space. Anything would make him angry. He was like a grenade ready to explode. He would often say to me ‘you are play doh between my fingers and I will mould you into whatever I want you to be.’
When someone who weighs twice what you weigh, and is much taller than you, stares you in the face, spitting with rage, you have to listen. When they tell you that if you ever try to leave that they will chop your body into pieces, burn you and put you in a body bag, and kill your three daughters you have to believe them. A smart person does what they are told.
But even if I did feel that leaving was a good idea, even if I did trust my intuition which was telling me to cling tightly, that I was not crazy, he said he would kill me. And it was not a light hearted joke either. Your spirit shuts down, your heart breaks a thousand times. Maybe some men apologise for the hitting, but my ex never did. He just told me it did not happen and that I was crazy. I could not imagine the man that I loved lying to me about this, good people don’t do that. I decided that I must be crazy, and yet a brave little voice deep in my soul kept saying “this is not right, not normal behaviour”.
On 18th January 2015, he ‘lined up’ my three daughters and said to them ‘I broke your mother’s neck before, but now I’m going to cut her up in pieces, burn her and put her in a body bag and all you three will be witness to it’. That’s the pivotal moment when I realised I had to leave, I had to run for not only my life but my girls’. We waited for him to leave the house and I grabbed my handbag and a file with documents I had hidden in my room and we ran out of the house. As we were crossing the road he came back in his car, screaming at my girls and speeding. He mounted the curb and tried to run down my 18 year old daughter. She believed she was going to die. My 8 year old daughter was regurgitating on the footpath as we ran. My 13 year old daughter was screaming. I flagged down a car and asked the driver to call a taxi for me. I didn’t have a plan but I knew I had to keep running.
Our lives have been turned upside down. We have had to relocate to another suburb and my childrens’ schooling changed. I was forced to start from scratch. I look at the scar on my neck everyday and it reminds me of how he broke my neck and how abusive he was. I have a metal plate and screws implanted in my vertebrae. Even as I was in hospital and my spinal surgeon asked me many times how my injury occurred, I did not say anything, I could not say anything. Out of fear that if he got into trouble he would then hurt my girls. I look at my 8 year old daughter and it only reminds me of how he shook her and threw her on her bed beating her. I look at my 18 year old and remember how he strangled her. I look at my 13 year old and can only think of how he slapped her across her face.
Why didn’t I just leave? That’s the question that needed an answer! However the more pressing subject was why on earth someone had treated me so badly? What gave him the right to turn me against myself? I never hurt him. I trusted him with my sanity, and he turned me into an unrecognisable mess. And there I found the answer to why women – like me – do not “just leave”. You don’t leave. You shut down. You become a shell. You become a ghost who goes through the days pretending everything is good. You deny it to yourself, and you tell your friends that you are happy.
And by this point, you are so confused you do not know why you have not left and you do not know why you have stayed. You do not know much of anything at all really. After all, he’s told you how unreliable you are, and how untrustworthy, and how worthless ….. and how lucky I should be that he keeps me around.
We stay because we are terrified if we try to leave we will die. I truly believed his threats that he would kill us. We stay because we feel “We deserve it” and that we are unworthy of good things. We stay for our children, out of shame, out of fearing no one will believe us. We stay because we feel there is no other place to go. We stay because we know if we call out for help and the police do come, that will only leave the perpetrator more angry.
Then we often go into denial, thinking we can change the abuser. If we love them more, do more, change our selves, that we can make them love us, and stop hurting us. But that denial is false. We are not responsible, we cannot heal them from the sickness that plagues them, we can only get out, hide, change our entire lives, and hope they do not stalk and find us again. I was too ashamed and afraid to tell a soul, so beneath the shadows of fear, I hid all of the pain deep inside. I shut down my emotions, just to survive. I had been afraid to live, and afraid to die. I was afraid to move and afraid to stay. I was afraid of losing myself and afraid of finding myself again. When I did leave, I did not take what I had arrived with. I took a million shattered pieces and I had to glue them all back together again.
Even though I was lucky enough to escape the abuse of my ex-husband, the scars within my soul stay. The night terrors haunt me almost nightly, the thoughts of him finding me and my daughters are real. My abuser, was and still is a grand manipulator and a narcissist. He led everyone to believe in public he was a sweet, caring husband and father.
My abuser breached the Apprehended Domestic Violence Order many times, for one breach he was sentenced to 6 months prison. For Actual Bodily Harm charge he was found guilty and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.
Now after almost 2 years of being out of that nightmare, I live with the left over pain, mentally, emotionally and physically. I have had further visits to the hospital for treatment on my neck. The scars affect even my wonderful relationships at times, just due to things that sometimes trigger old memories and pain. I cannot leave my home without my security device. I am fearful of him finding us or sending someone to stalk us.
Tonight, after a strong burden on my heart, I stand before you and make this speech. I know I am only one person, but something deep inside of me says I need to make a difference.
I feel I need to fight! Fight for the victims still out there, for a better understanding of domestic violence, for new laws and tougher punishments.
On one of the court hearings, my abuser attended court unrepresented which in turn gave him the privilege and legal right to represent himself and hence cross-examine myself and my daughter. That was such a horrific experience and defeats the purpose of court rooms having a safe room for women and children. So I have started an online petition to change law in which a perpetrator can cross-examine the victim when he/she is unrepresented in a court of law. You can sign my petition, which has gathered over 18,000 signatures, by going to my Facebook page The Unheard Voice and clicking on the link provided.
I also strongly urge you to take a good look around, and speak-up if you see anyone being disrespected or abused.
Angela Zena Hadchiti